42 Months (in two days)

Dear Beautiful Z,

In the middle of last month you had picture day at preschool. I preordered the package online, not knowing how they’d turn out. All I wanted was to preserve the memory of your very first picture day.

On your very first picture day, your teacher sent home a note. You usually get a daily note of your general behavior – this comes as a golden rod laminated form that your teacher fills out: What you ate, what you played with, any tantrums, or moments in the calm-down corner. But the note your teacher sent home on your first picture day was a pink note. The pink notes are achievement notes, and this is the one from your first picture day:

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This made me excited to see your pictures! I asked Dadda when he thought your pictures would be ready, and he said they usually take two weeks.

The next two weeks the suspense was unbearable. I kept busy and tried thinking about other things to pass the time. But it occurred to me that it was possible your teacher sent home notes like that for all your classmates, and doubt crept into my mind. What if your smile wasn’t really a smile, but a weird smirk? What if it was one of those forced smiles with your eyes squinty or tightly shut? What if you got all muddy or grimy from snack time? I’ve seen bad school pictures. Many of my school pictures were horrible. I definitely lowered my expectations of how your first school pictures turned out.

But the day came when I picked you up from daycare and one of the workers said your school pictures were on the top shelf of your cubby hole, and that they were sooo cute. And we saw another daycare worker who commented likewise about your school pictures. And so you and I went to your cubby hole and I glanced at the photo through the window of the big envelope, and I just about fell to my knees and cried from the cuteness. this is what I saw:

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Everyone loves your school pictures! I love them. Dadda loves them. I’ve shown them to you and asked who the girl in the pictures is, and you’ve answered with your name in that sweet little voice of yours. It’s nice to know that your teacher just wasn’t being nice when she sent home that pink note. She was being sincere, and I’m so glad we have this memory!

Yesterday Dadda and I had parent-teacher conference with your teacher. We talked for a good while about the progress you’re making, and she remarked how much energy you have! She’s impressed with you, and I hope you continue to let your teacher challenge you, and that you’ll eventually learn to harness that energy. We know you’re 3, we know you’re a sensory-seeker, so we definitely understand the spinning and running and climbing everywhere.

While we were at your school, we also got to talk with your speech pathologist, who had the chance of talking with your ABA therapist. It sounds like they will be able to coordinate their efforts and methods to bring about the best results for your speech development. How fortunate that we have these resources. We feel so blessed.

And today: Your teacher sent home another pink note!

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We are super proud of you. We love that you’re learning and expressing yourself. We love that communication is starting to click for you. We’re doing our best to help you, and your sweet spirit and desire to learn keep us from feeling too overwhelmed. We are here for you, and we will support you always.

Love, mom

Teacher’s Note

Yesterday was Z’s first day of preschool. It should have been Tuesday, but there was a mixup with the buses. They reversed our home address and the pickup address. I was annoyed, but things got straightened out, and when I picked her up from daycare yesterday, the workers said she’d had a good day, that she was a happy little girl. And had a nice nap. And that she’d gone potty just before I got there. The bus pickup and dropoff had no glitches, and the bus aide told the daycare that Z had a good day at preschool. I was so pleased to hear all of this good news! To top it off, Z was holding a clear plastic cup with some animal crackers. I buckled her in the car.

Then we got home and had about 20 minutes before Z’s ABA session. We sat at the patio table and ate some chips, then Dadda got home. And then Z’s tutor and the tutor’s supervisor came over. The supervisor talked with us about the additional things she’d like to implement in Z’s program and asked us if we had any questions. Reilly mentioned that Z sometimes reverses the sounds of letters in a word, like saying the “K” sound first in the word “drink.”

Then the supervisor brought up apraxia. The way Z tries to say some words may indicate apraxia. None of this is conclusive right now. But it’s another thing I have to research and worry about. I wasn’t told not to worry. I was going to worry anyway, but it makes a difference to be told not to worry.

This afternoon Z’s preschool teacher sent us an email:

Z’s day two has gone great, she really likes snack time, but wanted to walk around with the “juice” (gatorade) that she chose so we put in in her sippy cup and then she was able to drink from it when she was thirsty. She is listening and following directions so much better than when she first started in April which is awesome, especially considering the long summer break.
Just wanted to let you know.
As I was reading, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I’ve yet to really identify the emotions I experienced. Maybe I felt a combination of happiness and relief. But I felt most strongly pride. I can never articulate what all my concerns are for her, especially when it comes to navigating the world and discerning trust in and from others. Her safety, her knowing who she is, her ability to contribute to society. The preschool teacher’s email gave me great hope.
The other day, I tweeted this:

I’m grateful for the tools our biggening girl has acquired in her life so far. We can’t wait to see what else she can do.

Talk in Church

On July 30 2017, Reilly and I spoke in Church. I’ve decided to post my talk here for posterity.  And kicks. You’ll see that I spent the first third of the talk introducing us, since we are relatively new in our ward. I was pretty lighthearted and included some jokey inflections in my voice. Then I got a little more serious and decided to share more of myself, being just vague enough about my imperfections as well as admitting (vaguely) some of my struggles. If I spoke quickly enough, this talk would have been under 10 minutes, but I applied a nice cadence and switched up tempos throughout, so it ended up being closer to 15 minutes. Enjoy. Or not. 

Good morning. I am May Ryan. My handsome, smart, selfless, and sort of muscley and strong husband is Reilly Ryan. Reilly works at Diamond Fork Jr High in Spanish Fork, teaching 8th grade English. I work at a content and publishing company in Sugarhouse, maintaining a cancer diagnosis app. We’ve been married for five years and we have a 3yr old daughter named Z. We have been in the ward for 7.5 months, and we really love it here.

As more of an introduction, Reilly and I met in a Provo singles ward in August 2011. I was walking home from dinner at a friend’s house and happened upon ward prayer in my neighborhood cul-de-sac. I was new in the ward. Earlier that day at church someone had invited me over for a potluck, but I couldn’t remember where it was, and I wanted to check it out, even though I had just eaten.

While I’m not the most social person and I usually didn’t attend ward prayer, I needed to find out where this potluck was, but not because of the food. I was single, and because I was in a new ward, I had resolved to make myself try harder at getting to know people, even though large groups are intimidating.

I stepped into the crowd and asked a random person about the potluck. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but she pointed and said I could probably ask that bald guy over there. I didn’t see where she had pointed, so I approached the first bald guy I saw. That was Reilly.

We stood in the middle of that cul-de-sac, and I tuned everybody else out to focus on our conversation. I found out that we were both English majors. He graduated from the University of Utah, and I would be graduating that following April from BYU. We chatted about books and movies and music, and I was excited to talk with someone with whom I have so much in common.

Needless to say, Reilly Ryan thwarted my Sunday plans. During our chat, going to the potluck was the furthest thing from my mind. But it couldn’t have ended better.

We got married June 1, 2012. Our daughter Z was born in April 2014, when we were both in the middle of grad school. Our life together has been a marvelous journey so far.

Part of that journey includes speaking to you in church today. Time will tell if this experience ends up being marvelous or not. I’ll try to be optimistic.

In our remarks, Reilly and I will address the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? We will draw upon a talk by Elder L. Whitney Clayton from this past April’s General Conference called, “Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It.” This is a wonderful talk that has helped me focus my thoughts, and I pray that the Spirit will guide my words in their meaning and message.

Elder Clayton begins his talk with the story of the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2. Verses 1-11 read:

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Elder Clayton points out that we recognize this story because it demonstrates Jesus’ power early on. It’s his first miracle. But as in most scripture stories, there can be multiple layers and lessons, and in this story, the lesson we focus on here regarding faith and obedience is in Mary’s instructions to the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Mary’s confidence reminds us of who she is and how she came to give such straightforward direction. Mary is the mother of Jesus. As many parents with their children, Mary knows her son more than anyone. She knows his quirks, his tendencies. She knows that he is sinless, he is perfect. The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 25:3 states, “he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.”

When Mary says to the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” she’s saying she knows of the Savior’s divinity, his ability to save our souls. She’s saying that He is someone, the only one, we should have faith in.

How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? The fourth Article of Faith says the first principle of the gospel is faith IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Not just general faith. Faith in anything else will not sufficiently equip me to handle today’s seemingly numerous and relentless trials.

What is it about today’s world that makes life so difficult? What present challenges make faith and obedience especially crucial? We have many examples in the Bible and Book of Mormon of people struggling and exercising faith during those earlier dispensations. We have stories from early church history of saints facing different difficulties. We can gain inspiration from reading about all of these experiences. We can liken the principles taught to our lives. We know that we live in a unique time, and since the topic specifies today’s world, I have reflected on the years I have lived on the earth and some of the particular temptations that have tested my faith and obedience.

In the 80s, my dad introduced my mom to the church, and she was baptized when I was 6, and I got baptized when I was 8. I lived most of my childhood during the 80s in Florida, where I had a fascination with fire, and I remember taking books of matches from my house to the nearby playground and gathering kindling to start fires to watch them burn. These were always small fires that I extinguished pretty quickly, and this phase didn’t last very long. I’m not sure, but that was probably because I got caught and got in trouble. I conveniently don’t remember.

In the ’80s also emerged of MTV, which was really enticing with the adding of often spiritually toxic videos to already bad lyrics and a good beat and catchy melody. Media of all types had started to sneak their way into my mind.

The ’90s immersed my teenage and early adulthood years with increased intensity of what I was exposed to in the 80s. More tv, more music, more movies. Peer pressure invading my mind, I learned things I would have never seen or heard about in my home or from my family.

For the most part, I was a very faithful and obedient child and teenager. My parents and church family taught and supported me well. My friends were good and decent and wholesome people. I was a good student, graduating 2nd in my high school class, and I was accepted to BYU. I went to mutual. I went to early morning seminary. I earned my YW in Excellence Award. I kept going to church when my parents went inactive for a time.

It’s so weird to look back at the ‘80s and ‘90s and say these were simpler times, but the 2000s brought the seriousness of adulthood to my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, much less as a career, so I took a detour and moved with friends to New York City. I spent almost 7 years there. The entire world in all its aspects unfolded itself to me in that one place. The accumulation and amplification of every temptation I had been exposed to growing up and more was there. Furthermore in the 2000s was the full unleashing of the internet and the myriad potential ways it could derail someone like me from living the gospel.

There were bad influences in NYC, but I remember most fondly all the goodness it offered, too. I made some of my best friends there. The church is strong there. Members there struggle and fight, probably a lot like members everywhere do. There were times I wavered in my faith, but I always knew the gospel was true, and that my life had purpose. After trying to attend a singles ward for several months, I decided my time would be better served and I would feel more comfortable in a family ward. I served in the nursery. I served as a ward missionary. I also taught early morning seminary for two years. When I was there, serving others kept me on the right path.

And so we come to this decade. We could probably discuss and make a list of ways the world has changed in the last 7-10 years. Elder Clayton, in his talk, tells a story of speaking to a young bishop that spent several hours a week counseling members of his ward. He said, “The problems that members of his ward faced … were those faced by Church members everywhere—issues such as how to establish a happy marriage; struggles with balancing work, family, and Church duties; challenges with the Word of Wisdom, with employment, or with pornography; or trouble gaining peace about a Church policy or historical question they didn’t understand.”

This bishop often advised his ward members to “get back to simple practices of faith, such as studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion.” He said, “Frequently, however, the members’ response to their bishop was one of skepticism: They said, ‘I don’t agree with you, Bishop. We all know those are good things to do. We talk about those things all the time in the Church. But I’m not sure you’re understanding me. What does doing any of those things have to do with the issues I’m facing?’”

That could have been me a number of times in the last 10 years talking to that bishop. I have questions and issues that I wrestle with. Most of the time they are about people I love and their relationship with the Church. My spirituality ebbs and flows, and when I am in the lower moments, it can be hard to know or remember what to do.

Elder Clayton says faith and obedience go hand in hand, that obedience is an act of faith. He says that those who obey in “seemingly little ways are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves and, in fact, may seem totally unrelated to them. It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face. But they are related.”

Obedience is an act of faith in Christ, and the more we obey, the more we are blessed with faith. The more faith we have, the stronger we are to obey, even in the face of today’s barrage of mega-challenges. Christ can do that for us. He can fortify us. He can save us.

Reflecting upon the story of the wedding of Cana, perhaps the answer to the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? is another question: How do I come to know Christ the way Mary does? To answer that question, I wish I had something deeper than the little things, the “primary answers,” but it’s the little things that are truly profound and lead to growth. They set the foundation for progressing toward keeping higher covenants. Being diligent in my obedience as a child prepared me for many difficulties I faced growing up. Being faithful and obedient now motivate me to keep going to church, remind me to count my blessings, and reassure me the Lord knows my concerns and will provide the answers I need in his time.

“Whatsoever he saith, do it.” To apply that bishop’s counsel of studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion is a lot like pouring water in those stone vessels, not really understanding how that will result in the best wine. That’s where I am right now. If I do these things, I don’t understand how that will resolve my personal struggles. But I do know that these acts of obedience are an exercise of faith in my Savior. These acts will enable me to know him better.

And I believe that the better I know Jesus Christ, the stronger my desire will be to obey his teachings. This is what I was taught as a child; and because we are uncertain and nervous about the world our daughter will grow up in, this is what Reilly and I will continue to teach our family. No matter our struggles, if we can establish little habits of faith, if we can fill the pots with water to the brim, the Lord will somehow touch our lives, perform a true miracle and fortify our souls, and bring out the best in us.

A Journey and a Process

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There were concerns.

There was knowing without any professional confirmation. We knew, though.

There were doctor’s appointments.

There were assessments.

There was Early Intervention through Kids on the Move.

There was a scheduling for a screening. The earliest possible date was in July.

There were more assessments.

There was an IEP with a panel of special education preschool teachers.

There was special preschool.

There is progress.

There was a cancellation from someone else, which meant an opening for an earlier screening at the University of Utah.

There was a psychiatrist. And play. And observation.

There is a diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now we are here.

And now there’s more.

Unknown territory for us, but we’re damn good parents that will give the absolute best to our daughter that we can.

Thank you all for your continued love and support and patience for our little girl.

There you are.

 

Three Zinger Years

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Dear Zinger,

Happy third birthday, my love! I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking of what to write you for your birthday. I thought I could plan something elaborate and fun and recap the last year of your life with a flourish, because your third birthday is a really big deal. The planning didn’t go so well, but I’ll still reminisce this past year with you. You have grown so much, and the world anticipates all the new things you have yet to discover.

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Dadda and I worry about you all the time. We’ll keep worrying about you as the world continues to open up to you. That’s what parents do. We wonder how you’ll play with other kids, communicate your wants and needs. You do express yourself well; all it takes is one look at your irresistible face, and we can tell what you’re feeling.

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You want to be independent so badly. You’ll climb the countertops to get what you want. If you need help with it, you’ll bring it to us, at which time we realize you’ve climbed the countertop, which is a big no-no. But you’re stubborn and persistent. These characteristics will ultimately prove valuable to you in this world, if you use them the right way.

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Lola and Poppy are in town to celebrate your birthday, and you’re so eager to show them how much you know. Just last night you led Lola to the bathroom, where you brought the iPad, then brought the stool to the toilet, put your potty seat on the toilet and had Lola help you with your pants. You then sat on the toilet and went potty. Lola was so very impressed.

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Only recently have you started opening the refrigerator to retrieve one of your favorite foods, yogurt. You’re getting stronger and more resourceful, and if there’s a way to do something without our help, you’ll figure it out.

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A few months ago, we bought a house with a back yard and lots of space to play. You seem to enjoy it. You’ve found your little niches where you love to play, but it seems that you can fall asleep anywhere, which is so convenient.

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For some reason, you’ve gotten a lot more energetic as you’ve gotten closer to 3. You run, skip, jump, and dance so much more. Jumping on the couch, jumping on the bed. Running from one room to another. Going down your slide while watching one of your favorite movies. Climbing the fence, throwing rocks. Spinning and spinning wherever you are. You’ve also gotten a lot more curious in your old age, and it’s so much harder to keep up with you.

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You’re also putting a lot more stuff in your mouth that isn’t supposed to go there. Just the other day I barely saw you eat a giant booger before I could do anything about it. It really grossed me out, and we need to do better at catching you eating prohibited things. We actually need to be better at teaching you not to eat those things. Ah, parenting. Thanks so much for your patience, little one.

 

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We love how you’re participating more at school (daycare). We love how excited you get when you want to show us something. We love how often you sing and how you recognize the songs we sing to you. We love that you like watching music videos, how Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and ‘NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” are among your top favorites lately.

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So much is happening in the world. So much legitimately weird stuff. You’re oblivious to most of it, but we do want to teach you how to navigate all the weirdness in a constructive way. We want to teach you how to give beauty and goodness to the world. I know you’re only three, but you’re actually already three. You’re growing too fast. I would like to stop time just for a little bit, just for today, to really sit back and enjoy remembering the past three years with you.

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We’re having a party for you today: balloons, yummy food, family and friends. Toys and clothes and everyone cherishing your life. We hope you like it. Thank you for bringing us so much joy, for teaching us, for making us love more deeply and way beyond what we originally thought our abilities were.

This next year will be very exciting, and we cannot wait to live it with you.

Happy birthday.

Love, mom

’80s Basement Lecture Series, 18 Feb 2017: Satire

About a month ago I was feeling nostalgic about NYC, as I sometimes do, and I remembered that my friend Brook started a lecture series there where she would invite various experts to talk about their specialties. It all started in her living room with a small group then grew into an impressive crowd. She called it the Living Room Lecture Series.

This memory sparked in me a desire to copy her. I texted some friends to see what they thought:

Hey, friends! I’m thinking of starting a quarterly lecture series at my house. Maybe 20-minute talks, followed by discussion and treats. The lectures would come from us and cover a variety of topics. Reilly could talk about Family Guy, Maddie could discuss writing copy or songs, Kylie poetry or Ndichie, Jon film, etc. You don’t have to lecture if you don’t want to. Does this sound fun? Would you support this?

The replies:

  • OH MY HELL. I would ADORE THIS.
  • I strongly support this message.
  • YES!
  • If kids are welcome I’m totally interested. We used to do something similar in DC and I love that kind of thing! Also I’m also interested without the kid. Both ways, totally interested.

So we set a date and time, which was February 18 at 7:30pm. I thought about holding these meetings in our basement, which has wood paneling and strange patchy brown carpet from the ’80s. I decided to call this thing the ’80s Basement Lecture Series. Genius, I know.

This past Saturday the guests arrived, and we gave them a tour of our home. Then we ate some pizza and got really drunk. JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO PIZZA. Just kidding, we had a lot of pizza and zero alcohol.

We headed down to the basement. I introduced Reilly, and he gave a terrific lecture about satire and its evolution on television over the past 30 years. He defined indirect and direct satire, using Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as examples. He hinted a quick comparison of Tomi Lahren and Samantha Bee. He showed clips from the Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. We had a fascinating discussion about the current political climate and people who don’t get satire. And we discussed the purpose of satire: in what ways does it motivate us to act/speak/think? It was a lot of fun.

I looked at the group of us and wondered: Are THESE the people I like hanging out with, slightly strayed, slightly jack-Mormon AND incredibly faithful, moderate-to-left-leaning, super smart, extremely big-hearted; socially conscious, ever eager agents of change to make the world a better place?

Yes, YES.  A frillion times yes.

The conversation, their presence, their intelligence and spirit: I basked in it all.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s great bringing people together to share ideas and foster and strengthen friendships. But I may have started this lecture series just for me. Selfish little me.

Can’t wait for the next meeting.

Mormonish

You should have seen me as a youth: reading my scriptures every day, going to seminary, being the stake scripture mastery champion, going to church when my parents were inactive. I was a fine little example of commitment to religion.

Of course, as life went on I wasn’t perfect, but I knew the church was always there in case I wanted to go back.

I’m not perfect. I don’t read my scriptures every day now. Church is a struggle to attend sometimes. At times I find myself rolling my eyes at talks or silently criticizing lessons, though it’s a nice surprise when I enjoy church because of an especially sensitive talk or balanced discussion.

I was very recently Primary president in two different wards, and I still struggled. I wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard at being the best Primary president I could be.

I don’t know. These feelings creep up, and I don’t know what to do.

As of now, we’re not super devout Mormons. We believe all the fundamental Christlike things. I love people, and I want to serve and help them. I want to be an awesome friend, mother, and wife. An awesome May.

It’s a combination of things, really: personal trials, policies, politics, raising our daughter to be able to make good decisions and be a kind person. Asking “What if?” all the time.

Yet we’re sticking around. Why, if there’s so much grief, so much struggle between the spirit and mind? Part of me needs to wait it out. Something’s going to change, and it possibly could be me, and it could be another bunch of things. Part of me needs to have faith for my loved ones.

I’ll push myself. But when it gets hard and I don’t feel like pushing anymore, I might pause until I feel like pushing again. Maybe one of these days the church I thought I believed in so much as a youth can be a church I can fully commit myself to again.